Lauren Wilmoth: Officially a Teacher at Sea! October 10, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lauren Wilmoth
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
October 4 – 17, 2014

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska
Date: Friday, October 10, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 10.6 °C
Wind Speed: 13 knots
Latitude: 59°00.742′ N
Longitude: 150°53.517′ W

Science and Technology Log

On Thursday, I got to sit in on Junior Officer Steve Wall and Survey Tech Christie’s discussion of their holiday plan.  This does NOT mean they were talking about what they were doing for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  A holiday is a space in an area that has already been surveyed where there still isn’t sufficient data.  This can happen for a number of reasons.  Think about mowing the lawn.  If the lawn mower is going back and forth in lines, just as the ship does, sometimes you can still miss a spot (I know I do).  With the lawn mower though, it is easy to see where you missed a spot, so you can go back over it immediately.  This is not the case with the ship.  What’s more, when you are mowing the lawn it is relatively easy to push the lawn mower in a straight line.  It is not as easy to drive a ship in a straight line, because currents and weather can be pushing and pulling it in different directions.  The purpose of a holiday plan then is to find these missed spots, so a smaller boat can be sent over to fill in those gaps in the data.  The holiday plan also tries to figure out how this can be done most efficiently.  For example, if holidays are close together you can send out one boat one time to take care of multiple holidays.

The holidays are the places outlined in yellow.  This shows the area were are about to survey in Kodiak.
This is part of the holiday plan that Christie and Steve put together for this next part of our trip.  The holidays are the places outlined in yellow and the black are the places where there is already sufficient data.

While I have been aboard the ship, I have constantly be learning more about NOAA corps.  If you were interested in joining the NOAA corps, the first step would be get a four year (Bachelor’s) degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) field.  Many corps members have degrees in Marine Biology.  The greatest need is for people with engineering degrees.  Once you have your four year degree, you can apply to be in the NOAA corps.  If you are accepted in to the program, you will have training for 5 months.  This is a combination of class work and hands-on training.  When you successfully complete your training, you will be assigned to a ship.  You will work on that ship for 2 to 3 years.  During those years, your jobs progress in difficulty and vary, so that you can slowly learn how to do it all.  All NOAA corps officers are trained on navigating the ship!  Even though you are assigned to a ship for 2 to 3 years, you won’t be “gone” the entire time.  Each ship has a season when it operates.  For example, the Rainier‘s season runs from April to November.   When the ship is out of season, it stays in the home port.  Rainier‘s home port is Newport, Oregon.  Just because the ship is out of season doesn’t mean you don’t work.  You still report to the ship daily and work aboard the ship.  It is just docked during that time.   In the off-season, you may do additional training that would occur off of the ship.  Also, many people take their leave during the off-season.  NOAA corps officers get 30 days of paid leave a year!  After your 2 to 3 years on a ship, you work on land for 2 or 3 years.  When you return for your second ship assignment, you will likely have moved up in the ranks.

Today, we finally got underway!  I was invited to listen in on the evolution required to get the ship underway.  Evolution, I quickly learned, has a different meaning in the military then has when we talk about evolution in biology class.  An evolution is a set, step-by-step process.  To ensure that everything is done properly, there is a check list that must be completed before departure.  Some tasks begin an entire day ahead of time.  Some of the items required for the checklist include checking the fire doors, heating up the engine (for about 30 minutes), and much much more.  Just untying the ship involves multiple steps because of the ship’s size.  We actually had to leave two crew members behind to undo the lines.  Then, they hopped on one of Rainier‘s smaller boats (called a skiff) and rode back the ship.  After they got off of the skiff, Rainier hoisted the skiff up and puts it back in its place.

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The skiff coming to the ship after the ship was untied from the pier.
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The skiff being hoisted onto the ship with a crane.














Quickly after getting underway, we had our required emergency drills.  I had NO idea how realistic the fire drill would be!  I thought it would be like a school drill where we just go to our spot and stand around.  This was definitely NOT the case.  I was sitting in my stateroom (where I sleep) when the alarm sounded which announced it was a drill.  The announcement proceeded to say where the fire was located which was the XO’s (Executive Officer) room a few doors down from me.  By the time I was in the hall there was smoke, pretend smoke, but smoke!  People were going to their stations, some were getting on their fire fighting gear, and in no time, they were fighting the pretend fire with gear on and hoses unwound.  I was sent on border control, so basically, I had to go to a bordering area and monitor if the fire was spreading by feeling for heat.  The drill was so realistic that there was even an unconscious victim that had to be treated by the medical officer.  It is vital to have these realistic drills, because unlike on shore, you cannot just call the fire department.  You have to be your own fire department!  Almost immediately after the fire drill, we had an abandon ship drill.   My group mustered (gathered) at life raft #8 and then, we had to put on our red survival suits.

My emergency billet that tells me where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.
My emergency billet that tells me where to go and what to do in case of an emergency.

Personal Log

On Thursday, Meclizine was passed out in the dispensary.  This is a medication to prevent motion sickness.  I will definitely be taking some.  Even if it doesn’t work 100%, I have been given some tips on how to settle the feelings of nausea.  It was recommended for one that I get further down in the ship and closer to the center of the ship.  There is a lounge with couches called the ward room that is in a more ideal place to reduce motion sickness than my berthing area, so I may go there if I start feeling bad.  If my nausea is still bad, I have been told to go the back of the ship (the fantail) and watch the horizon.  You might wonder why watching the horizon off the back of the ship would help.  Motion sickness is caused when your senses are giving you conflicting information.  So if you are in a ship, your inner ear ,which controls your balance, knows your body is moving, but visually, since the boat is moving with you, your eyes are telling you a different story.  This explains why it can be helpful to go to the fantail.  Your visual sensory input (what you see) will match more with what your inner ear is telling your brain if you are watching the movement.

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Selfie with my motion sickness medicine.

Between the fire drill and the abandon ship drill, the captain called me up the bridge (the place where you control the ship).  He wanted me to see all of the orcas (killer whales).  There was a whole pod of them.  There were possibly 50 orcas (Orcinus orca) and they were pretty close to the ship at times!  There were also dall’s porpoise’s (Phocoenoides dalli) swimming in our wake.  It was so cool!


Here is a picture of dall’s porpoises like the ones we saw today. This photo was taking by Teacher at Sea alumna Britta Culbertson.


Did You Know? 

There is more than one way to “rock the boat.”  The ship can pitch, roll, or yaw.

Animal Spotting

Thursday night I saw a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) by the piers.  I didn’t get a picture, because it flew way too fast.  It was still awesome though!

10 Replies to “Lauren Wilmoth: Officially a Teacher at Sea! October 10, 2014”

  1. Mrs. Wilmoth, you mentioned that you where able to monitor if the “fire” was spreading by “feeling for heat” ,but what equipment, if any, helps determine if a fire is spreading within the boat?

    1. There is no particular equipment that does this. We all have radios, so if we went to an area and it was hot or we could see smoke or flames, we would report it on the radio and the team with the fire hoses would come to that spot to fight the fire as well.

    1. Good question! I don’t think sonar waves are generally used to track the movements of tectonic plates, but sonar mapping of the floor did help people accept tectonic theory, because they saw how dynamic the sea floor is. They also saw the valleys and canyons. People once thought the ocean floor was all flat. Generally, they use GPS to track the movement of the plates. They can also use geomagnetic data.

  2. Not trying to jinks ya,but what will happen if you would to take the med,but it didn’t work.
    what would happen if one of NOAA’s crew were to fall a sleep. I miss you !!!!!!!!!

    1. If I didn’t take the sea sickness medicine, then I might of gotten sea sick. If one of the crew members fell asleep, they would be woken up. There is never just one person in charge of controlling the ship, so if one person does fall asleep, there is always someone there to wake them up.

  3. Mrs.Wilmoth how do you know when you have sufficient information, and that it is not a “holiday”. The fire drill is way too cool btw!

    1. Usually, a holiday is a spot that was missed entirely, so there is no data. Potentially, you could have a holiday if data wasn’t taken properly. For instance, if your sonar wasn’t tuned properly then the data could be of such poor quality that you would have to go over it again. However, I haven’t seen this happen since I have been here. Mostly it is small spots that got missed or they ran out of time to complete.

    1. That day was chilly! It was probably right around freezing and the wind was blowing and it was drizzling on us.

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